Sunday, 17 August 2014


 Given the pace of technological advance, there will come a time in each of our lives when we’ll feel left behind. For me that moment came a while back, when Netflix announced they were releasing the American adaptation of House of Cards, starring Kevin Spacey.

A big fan of the original BBC series and its dark yet brilliant anti-hero played by Ian Richardson, I’m sure I’ll love the series when I see it.

Were it not for the hamster on my roof that runs to provide my internet connection, I’d already have watched it. Suddenly I felt a little left out and I didn’t like it.

That perception of being excluded bought back memories of the days when there were only three TV channels in England; when you dared not miss the big show that everyone else would be watching. 

There was no taping, no rewind or pause. You had to be in front of the TV to see it, so if your parents didn’t happen to like M*A*S*H, you’d be fighting with your brother for control of the tiny and ancient black and white portable upstairs.

It was vital you watched what everyone else in your social sphere was watching at exactly the same time, or the next day at school would be a miserable exercise in bluffing away the fact you had missed both Monty Python and M*A*S*H.

Those excited chats everyone used to have about last night’s tele are what they now call ‘water cooler moments’. Away from live sporting events and soap operas, they have almost entirely disappeared. Unless you’re a fan of either balls or balls-ups, watching television is no longer in any way a sharing social experience.

We’re all doing our TV differently. While you’re catching up on the latest Storyville documentary on BBC 4, your friend is working his way through series 3 of his Breaking Bad box set, your mum is watching the gardening programme from last Tuesday. and the kids are off on You Tube, glued to the live broadcast of a pet chipmunk performing open heart surgery on its owner.

With the very welcome arrival of what’s known as ‘Long Form Drama’, (West Wing, The Sopranos, The Wire, Game of Thrones, etc.) the stars of the big screen have drifted from cinema to TV, attracted by quality scripts and massive budgets. For once the viewers are winners, as technology in the form of digital TV and DVD has freed us from forced-watching of mindless dross.

Have to admit, I absolutely love digital TV, as apart from news and sport, I hardly ever watch live TV. My digibox is loaded with everything from Cheers to Simon Schama, so whatever my mood, there’s always something there I feel like watching.

No longer a slave to commercials, I’m king of the fast forward button, straight through the ad break, luvvly jubbly! 

Series link? Yes please!

The change of the season is heralded by the TV networks advertising their Autumn schedules. Whatever wonderful or woeful programming they offer, of one thing we can be sure: they will be treating us like idiots.

Since the arrival of the TV remote control (yes kids, there was a time...) our attention spans have shrunk to something comparable to a squirrel on speed, but that doesn’t mean our brains have become indistinguishable from walnuts.

So why do the networks feel the need to talk down to us as if we’ve all had frontal lobotomies?

The first 5 minutes of every programme consist of a preview of everything we’re about to see, so that in effect, we don’t actually need to watch the programme at all.

Indeed, if we do decide these tasters are appetising enough, we tacitly accept that by choosing to watch the show, we are condemning ourselves to seeing all those clips again, represented to us as if we’d never seen them before.

The other night, at the start of RTE’s Six One news, Sharon niVol o’Vent squiggled on her seat as she ran through the day’s headlines. 

We were shown a long and tedious clip of yet another crooked politician somehow found innocent, reading a statement on the courthouse steps. It was painful the first time, but one minute later we had to watch and listen to the gobshite reading the same mind-numbing nonsense all over again.

As far as ‘dumbing down’ goes, the BBC are no better. I recall Fiona Bruce reporting on their 6 o’clock TV news how census results showed that Scotland’s population is growing.

“Experts say that this is a result of more people being born than dying in Scotland, and more people coming to the county than leaving it.”

Thanks Fiona - if you hadn’t explained that to me I’d have lived the rest of my life thinking that new Scots were spontaneously erupting into life, or being grafted onto planet Earth by space aliens.

Thankfully there are still some channels which offer the mind stimulation. Ah look, there’s that nice Tony Robinson chap, about to present a Timewatch Special about Stonehenge.

Oh no! Please no! He’s at it too.

“Coming up - we’ll reveal faaaascinating secrets about Stonehenge that nobody has ever seen before, except you now, in this preview. In fact we’re going to show you the key points of the whole programme in 30 seconds, so here’s the interesting bit about the stones being a healing place; now we’re telling you how the blue stones came from Wales; there’s the skeleton we found of a significant archer and a man murdered by Druid security."

Now sit back and enjoy the fact that when you see all those juicy morsels in a wee while, they’ll already be memories rather than revelations.

The best show in town never changes: hitting the off button; watching the fire’s flames lick over the turf; listening to the wind howling outside and the dog snoring at your feet.

©Charlie Adley

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